Every Friday, when “pied-piper” Gary Begin would buy a book and show up at Edmonds Community School to read to students while wearing eye-popping brightly coloured socks and carrying doughnuts, the kids would meet him outside and follow him around.
Begin is well known in the Burnaby community — whether it’s for his time on city council or his “Christmas Sox Parties” or for his love for doughnuts.
He has devoted his whole life to community service — serving on the Burnaby school board from 1974 to 1985 and as a city councillor for different terms between 1986 and 2008.
Since 2000, Begin has been involved with non-profit, St. Michael’s Centre, funded by Fraser Health Authority, as a long-standing member on St. Michael’s board of directors.
After 22 years, he is stepping down from the board. It’s a bittersweet occasion, as the farewell comes as the non-profit celebrates its anniversary.
St. Michael’s Centre has been serving the residents and community for 41 years as a long-term care facility, in addition to 20 years as Burnaby’s first and only hospice centre.
Long before he was known in Burnaby for his community service, Begin owned a ‘Mr.Gary’s’ dress store, which, at times, became an unofficial councillor’s office.
He has been involved in many community boards- including Burnaby Family Life, Burnaby Arts Council and West Burnaby and South Burnaby United churches.
A former resident of Burnaby and a graduate of Burnaby South High School, Begin tremendously contributed to the community. While he has since moved to Tsawwassen, his heart belongs to his hometown.
Begin has been described by friends and colleagues as a beacon of optimism. (His voicemail bears this out, ending with a cheery “Have a wonderful day!”)
Barbara Spitz, a board member and friend, said Begin’s contributions helped St. Michael’s Centre navigate many difficulties faced along the way, especially through the pandemic, which was heavily felt by the facility.
St. Michael’s CEO Arif Padamshi said Begin had provied monumental support in “preserving the legacy” of the organization.
He said Begin, “the man of the people” and “compassionate advocate” as people call him, has always been a strong voice for people’s welfare.
“His positive attitude, determination to support, would extend to the leadership and the board themselves,” Padamshi said. “Lending his advocacy and strong voice towards the preservation of St. Michael’s faith-based legacy are really important for what he’s done for St. Michael’s.”
Spitz, a confidante and colleague who graduated with Begin from high school, teared up as she remembered working with Begin.
“He is a person that really cared,” she said. “He cared for Burnaby, for the well-being of those that are maybe not as well off or not have some of the privileges.
“So he cared for his community in Burnaby, in all aspects of it, whether it’s working with children and reading to them or advocating for the elderly that live at St. Michael’s.”